Wednesday December 5, 2012

Tens of thousands protest outside Egypt’s presidential palace, police fire tear gas

CAIRO (AP) -- A protest by at least 100,000 Egyptians outside the presidential palace in Cairo turned violent on Tuesday as tensions grew over Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s seizure of nearly unrestricted powers and a draft constitution hurriedly adopted by his allies.

Crowds around the capital and in the coastal city of Alexandria were still swelling several hours after nightfall. The large turnout signaled sustained momentum for the opposition, which brought out at least 200,000 protesters to Cairo’s Tahrir Square a week ago and a comparable number on Friday. They are demanding the Morsi rescind decrees that placed him above judicial oversight.

In a brief outburst, police fired tear gas to stop protesters approaching the palace in the capital’s Heliopolis district. Morsi was in the palace conducting business as usual while the protesters gathered outside. But he left for home through a back door when the crowds "grew bigger," according to a presidential official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The official said Morsi left on the advice of security officials at the palace and to head off "possible dangers" and to calm protesters. Morsi’s spokesman, however, said the president left the palace at the end of his work schedule through the door he routinely uses.


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The violence erupted when protesters pushed aside a barricade topped with barbed wire several hundred yards from the palace walls. Police fired tear gas, and then retreated. With that barricade removed, protesters moved closer to the palace’s walls, with police apparently choosing not to try and push the crowds back.

Fighting, death tolls surge as rebels push fight against regime to Syrian capital

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria’s civil war is closing in on President Bashar Assad’s seat of power in Damascus with clashes between government forces and rebels flaring around the city Tuesday, raising fears the capital will become the next major battlefield in the 20-month-old conflict.

Numerous reports emerged of at least a dozen people killed near the ancient city and elsewhere, and the regime said nine students and a teacher died from rebel mortar fire on a school. The state news agency originally said 30 people had been killed in the attack.

While many of the mostly poor, Sunni Muslim suburbs ringing Damascus have long been opposition hotbeds, fighting has intensified in the area in recent weeks as rebels press a battle they hope will finish Assad’s regime.

"The push to take Damascus is a real one, and intense pressure to take control of the city is part of a major strategic shift by rebel commanders," said Mustafa Alani of the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center. "They have realized that without bringing the fight to Damascus, the regime will not collapse."

The increased pressure has raised worries that he or his forces will resort to desperate measures, perhaps striking neighbors Turkey or Israel, or using chemical weapons.

Palestinian war crimes
case against Israel would face many obstacles

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Days after winning upgraded status at the United Nations, the Palestinians are threatening to join the world’s first permanent war crimes court and pursue charges against the Israelis.

Although the Palestinians say that any decision is still a long ways off, the mere threat has unnerved Israel. But pressing a case may not be so simple and could potentially leave the Palestinians themselves vulnerable to prosecution.

Since winning recognition as a nonmember observer state in the United Nations General Assembly last week, the Palestinians believe they now qualify for membership in the International Criminal Court.

In opposing the Palestinian bid at the U.N., Israel repeatedly cited Palestinian threats to turn to the ICC to prosecute Israeli officials for a variety of alleged crimes, ranging from actions by the Israeli military to Israel’s construction of Jewish settlements on occupied land.

While Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and believes its actions do not violate international law, officials are concerned legal action that could embarrass Israel, make it difficult for Israeli officials to travel overseas or portray the country as a pariah state. A war crimes conviction can include fines and maximum penalties of life in prison.

NYPD spokesman: Detectives questioning suspect in death of subway rider shoved onto tracks

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York City police are questioning a suspect in the death of a subway rider who was shoved onto the tracks.

New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne says investigators recovered security video showing a man fitting the description of the assailant working with street vendors near Rockefeller Center.

Police went there Tuesday and took him into custody.

Ki-Suck Han of Queens died shortly after being hit by a train Monday at the Times Square subway station.

Police say he tried to climb a few feet to safety, but got trapped between the train and the platform’s edge.

Obama’s inauguration seems a been-there-done-that moment four years after historic gathering

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four years ago, Barack Obama’s swearing-in drew a record crowd to the National Mall. There were 1.8 million people eager to witness history: the country’s first black president taking the oath of office.

Now, as Obama prepares for his second-term kickoff, the capital is pre-occupied with a looming economic crisis, exit from war and a reshuffling in Congress. Ticket demand is lower. Hotels are far from booked. And from Capitol Hill to the White House, the upcoming festivities seem to be barely on anyone’s radar.

More muted inaugural celebrations are typical with every second presidential term. But it’s almost as if Obama’s swearing-in, on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, is a been-there-done-that afterthought around town.

Perhaps Obama is a victim of his own historical significance. Perhaps it’s a sign of how far the nation has come, some 50 years after the March on Washington that drew a multitude of people calling for civil and economic rights for African-Americans.

Although inaugural planning and preparations are well under way, Obama’s advisers say they aren’t yet focusing on the swearing-in as they negotiate over the "fiscal cliff" automatic tax increases and budget cuts that will occur in January unless the White House reaches a compromise with Congress. Party planners haven’t made even the most basic of announcements yet, such as who will serve on Obama’s inaugural committee and how they will raise money. No plans are in the works for a star-studded concert like the one four years ago that kicked off the inaugural festivities.

Republican opposition downs UN disability treaty

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Led by Republican opposition, the Senate on Tuesday rejected a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled that is modeled after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.

With 38 Republicans casting "no" votes, the 61-38 vote fell five short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify a treaty. The vote took place in an unusually solemn atmosphere, with senators sitting at their desks rather than milling around the podium. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, looking frail and in a wheelchair, was in the chamber to support the treaty.

The treaty, already signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, states that nations should strive to assure that the disabled enjoy the same rights and fundamental freedoms as their fellow citizens. Republicans objected to taking up a treaty during the lame-duck session of the Congress and warned that the treaty could pose a threat to U.S. national sovereignty.

"I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

He and other opponents were not swayed by support for the treaty from some of the GOP’s prominent veterans, including the 89-year-old Dole, who was disabled during World War II; Sen. John McCain, who also suffered disabling injuries in Vietnam; Sen. Dick Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee; and former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Eight Republicans voted to approve the treaty.

The treaty also was widely backed by the disabilities community and veterans groups.

White House press secretary Jay Carney called the vote disappointing and noted that President Barack Obama had declared, in a written statement read in tribute to Dole just before the vote, that "disability rights should not stop at our nation’s shores."

Netflix wins rights to show Disney movies shortly
after theatrical runs

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Netflix’s video subscription service has trumped pay-TV channels and grabbed the rights to show Disney movies shortly after they finish their runs in theaters.

The multiyear licensing agreement announced Tuesday represents a breakthrough for Netflix as it tries to add more recent movies to a popular service that streams video over high-speed Internet connections.

Netflix will have exclusive U.S. rights to offer the first-run movies through its streaming service during the period normally reserved for premium TV network such as HBO, Starz and Showtime. That period starts about seven months after movies leave theaters. The exclusivity does not extend to DVDs, a service Netflix is trying to phase out.

Investors applauded Netflix’s coup, lifting the company’s stock by $8.86, or nearly 12 percent, to $84.86 in afternoon trading.

It’s the first time that one of Hollywood’s major studios has sold the coveted rights to Netflix Inc. instead of a premium TV network. DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. licensed the pay-TV rights to its movies to Netflix last year under a deal that begins in 2013, but those movies don’t wield the same box-office appeal as Disney, whose stable includes Pixar Animation and Marvel.